Families begin sifting through ashes after East Tennessee wildfi - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Families begin sifting through ashes after East Tennessee wildfire

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: CNN) (Source: CNN)
(Source: Aaron Gholston) (Source: Aaron Gholston)
GATLINBURG, TN (WMC) -

Gatlinburg leaders confirm 11 people have been killed in the wildfire that damaged and continues to threaten much of East Tennessee.

Officials are worried that death toll may rise (click here for the latest details). They're still going door-to-door to check on everyone. There are also several missing persons reports out for the area.

Every one of the hundreds of homes destroyed in Gatlinburg tells its own unique story. One home was built by hand and passed down through multiple generations. That family is now faced with picking up the pieces of the rubble.

"I don't think it's really sunk in," Stephen Cogdill, lost family home in fire, said. 

Cogdill is like so many people who live in Gatlinburg. They are looking through the remains of memories, but they're also quick with a story of survival. Cogdill's parents escaped their family home.

"The flames were coming up over the hill when they were leaving," Cogdill said. 

To Cogdill and his family, it's a reminder of their grandparents' hard work.

"They built it with my grandparents, my uncle, my dad, just everybody pitching in," he said. 

Now, the memories are the only thing that remains of the family home.

"Family get togethers, the BBQs, Christmas. We did it here," Cogdill said.

Out of the ashes, he found an old .22 rifle he had since he was a child. It was burned as well. But, it's a keepsake that he recovered, and is hoping to discover more as he sifts through the ashes.

"I'm just hoping I can find a few more little things here and there," Cogdill said.

Despite the destruction, some have cried tears of joy as they were given good news about their homes. 

A woman in the lobby of a hotel started yelling and crying in the middle of the lobby when she discovered that her home was left standing and had survived the fire. 

The woman saw her neighborhood on the news, which had home after home destroyed, and she believed hers had been destroyed as well. 

"He said 'your house is good' so we have a home, which is great," Ushonda Krinkey said. "I'm overwhelmed with emotions. I've been in a fog for the last couple days, just wondering."

She said she had provided a free meal for a firefighter at the hotel. That firefighter agreed to help her out and check out her home. He delivered the good news that it was still standing.

Mobile users, click here to see photos of the fires and damage

In an afternoon press conference, he said officials rescued three people who were trapped. They are in stable condition.

The number of buildings damaged or destroyed in the fire is now up to 700, with 400 of them in Sevier County and 300 in Gatlinburg.

The fire has impacted more than 17,000 acres.

Strong storms moved through the Gatlinburg area Wednesday morning. It was the same storm system that killed three people in Alabama and caused damage in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana.

Fire Chief Greg Miller said the strong winds sparked eight new fires between Monday night and Tuesday morning. He said the wind and rain also cleared vegetation and created several mudslides and rockslides in the area.

The amount of people receiving overnight shelter at the Red Cross shelter decreased. A Red Cross spokesperson said that the decrease happened as a result of many local hotels providing rooms for some of those who have received assistance from the Red Cross because of the fire. 

Miller said his department continues to fight fires and work to keep everyone safe.

Gatlinburg remains under a mandatory evacuation. Only emergency crews and officials are allowed in the city. All roads are closed.

Almost all of the schools will be open Thursday. The school superintendent said buses will run to pick up students, but the buses will only travel as far as the driver deems it safe to go. Officials said there are still dangerous areas within Gatlinburg and Sevier County to travel and access. 

Grief counselors will be on site at the schools Thursday for students. 

Pigeon Forge was under a mandatory evacuation that has since been lifted.

The fire started at a home in the Cobley Nob neighborhood, just outside Gatlinburg. From there, it spread. The 60-70 mph winds pushed it into an expected 100 of the 300 homes in the neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are now a total loss.

The Cobley Nob neighborhood is one of the hardest hit neighborhoods. Homes have been left with nothing but foundation, cars are a shell of what they once were. 

"I had a lot people, a lot of good people praying that our house would be here and I thank God that it's here," Jill Schrock said. 

Schrock was able to finally tell the firefighters 'thank you' for saving her home.

"You just don't know how thankful we are. I'm speaking for a lot of people in this neighborhood," Schrock told firefighters.

One in three homes in the Cobley Nob neighborhood is expected to be a total loss.

Problems for firefighters battling blaze

A fire hose with a completely burned end was left behind in the Cobley Nob neighborhood after firefighters fought the blaze in the neighborhood where it all started.

When the fire started, it almost overtook every one of the 17 firefighters from the small Cobley Nob volunteer fire department.

"Propane tanks were blowing off and it was really scary," Chief Rosemary Nichols, Pittman Center Fire Department, said.

But the firefighters were not ready to quit. After evacuating and regrouping, they went back in. But then, they had more trouble. They lost the ability to communicate.

"We were up here to close to 15 hours with little to no communication," Captain Adam Landry said. 

The firefighters worked through the immense difficulties, fighting the worst fire they said they have ever seen. 

"We're on 36 hours and each of us has head probably four hours rest in that period," Landry said.

"I'm so proud of these guys for digging in and stopping it," Nichols said.

Senator Alexander delivered a five minute address to the Senate on Wednesday regarding the fires. During his address, he said he and Senator Corker were committed to doing whatever they can to help Gatlinburg and Sevier County.

Hundreds of businesses and homes have been destroyed in the deadly wildfires. One of the businesses dealing with major losses is the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa. When the fires started, 1,200 people were staying in the resort. Crews had 15 minutes to evacuate everyone.

A Memphis family was in Gatlinburg when the fires sparked. Three adult brothers were there with their parents. The brothers were injured while trying to evacuate; the parents remain missing.

Family friends said the three brothers: Branson, Wesley, and Jared, were hospitalized after they were injured in the fire. Family members said Jon and Janet, who were missing for two days, died in the fires.

A Red Cross spokesperson said Wednesday that the organization does not need any more material donations. She said Americans have stepped up in a big way and overloaded Red Cross with materials. At this time, if anyone wants to help, Red Cross suggests making a monetary donation; here's how.

Evacuees at shelters shared incredible stories of survival.

James Murphy was staying at a motel with his dog. When he walked outside, he saw fire all around him. Murphy said he grabbed a smoke mask, put it on his dog, Nippie, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and walked 1.5 miles to safety.

"It was pretty tough," Murphy added. "It was kind of scary because I heard a couple of explosions going off. I just kept going. The dog didn't want to walk so I had to pick him up and carry him and carry the fire extinguisher."

Another man said he led a caravan through his neighborhood to bring everyone to safety. He said he knocked on doors to get people out, then led the caravan of 40 people through the flames to get to safety.

"Just a convoy driving through the fire," the man said. "The creeks were on fire, all the trees and cabins--absolute devastation."

How to help

First Tennessee Bank is matching donations to the East Tennessee Red Cross up to $50,000. To donate, go to any First Tennessee Financial Center.

Donations can be made through the American Red Cross by clicking here, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, or texting 90999 REDCROSS.

A Red Cross spokesperson said Wednesday that the organization does not need any more material donations. She said Americans have stepped up in a big way and overloaded Red Cross with materials. At this time, if anyone wants to help, Red Cross suggests making a monetary donation.

New Hope Church of God in Sevierville is collecting donations; donors can call (865)932-4673 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST.

For more ways to donate, click here.

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.

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